Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Identity Thrift

Although Ashley has this unusual bias against Twitter, I find, as a stay-at-home parent, it's an invaluable social tool. Far moreso than Facebook; no one on Twitter has invited me to start a farm yet. As a matter of fact, NONE of the opportunities for speaking, writing, or pretty much any other seismic life shifts that have happened to me in the past two years would have been possible without the friends and connections I have made in 140 characters or less. So the Twitter score is something like God: 4; Ashley: 0.

Some of the most amazing friendships I have developed in the last three years first came about through some random Twitter connection. One of the emotionally conjoined items I have found that I share with a number of these people is that we are stay-at-home/work-from-home parents. Granted, based on our respective years serving in this gig, some are more like grizzled veteran whereas I am the green recruit. However, we've swapped more than a few war stories about our kids, their similarities, our parenting styles, our potty training escapades leading to eventual uncorking of wine and beer bottles...

And in doing so, we began doing what every parent does at some point: describing ourselves through the singular lens of being so-and-so's mom or dad.

Now I will admit: my kid is freaking awesome. In one hour of one day he can be more amusing to watch and listen to than I have been for the totality my life, and people used to tell me I was funny. Now they just raise an eyebrow and tell me to act my age. As parents, we should place our kid's importance, happiness and well-being before ours (so stop eating all the cookies while he takes a nap, Sonny). The same should be true for how we hold our spouses or partners, considering them before we consider ourselves.

However, when we only share stories about our kids and not us, or when we talk about nothing but what it's like to be a parent or a spouse, we cheapen the potential for friendships we are given. Parents, especially the stay-at-home variety, may shift into this in discussions as a default setting, because sometimes we are so preoccupied with explaining why Legos are not meant to be inserted into heating and cooling ducts, or finding some way to get them to eat something other than chicken fingers that we can't see straight. Truth be told, I feel like my social and conversational skills have atrophied to the point that they are closer to Helen Keller's at the beginning of THE MIRACLE WORKER than to what a mature, educated, adult male who has spent the entirety of his professional life working in the field of education should have.

Sadly, we also sometimes use our kids as shields. We only tell stories about them, because otherwise, we'd have to talk about ourselves. We'd have to dare to be honest, trust to be open, and have the unmitigated gall to remember that we are an individual. When we don't, it means we tend to hold others at arms length and don't allow them close enough to our heart to develop a true relationship with them. Even worse, it's a form of idolatry towards our kids. And the last time I checked, God took a pretty dim view towards anything that was set before Him.

This isn't to mean that we should never talk about our families (it would be physically impossible for me to do so; seriously, my kid's hair is a great conversation starter if nothing else). It's simply that every so often, I need to remind myself - and be reminded in love by my friends - that when people ask how I'm doing, they're asking about me and not necessarily just about my family. I have no problem with calling out friends when they begin to define themselves through the eyes of their relationships ("Can you please talk about something other than how awesome your new man is?"), so I need to be comfortable with walking out of my glass house and placing myself into the mindset of remembering that I am more than the sum of the diapers I have changed.

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